Emergency talks held over lorry driver crisis

29 June 2021

The UK government has held emergency talks with logistics providers to tackle the shortage of lorry drivers threatening supermarket supplies, according to reports.

Relaxing working hour restrictions, increasing HGV driving tests and training for new local drivers are being considered as possible solutions, The Guardian reported.

The talks, involving the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), wholesalers, logistics operators and retailers, covered bringing in workers from abroad by putting drivers on the official shortage occupation list. Defra is planning to gauge support for possible rule changes.

Last week, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) wrote to prime minister Boris Johnson stressing the need for action on the “crippling” effects of the HGV driver shortage.

The letter was signed by groups representing food and drink producers and distributors, energy suppliers and other logistics operators.

It said empty shelves were already becoming apparent and the situation would get worse if not urgently addressed.

The shortfall of drivers has risen from 60,000 before the pandemic to more than 100,000, the RHA said.

The RHA said drivers returning home during the pandemic, Brexit uncertainty, early retirement, shortage of testing and the introduction of IR35 tax rules had exacerbated the situation.

“It is our collective view that there has never been a more challenging time for this industry and we urge you to take these decisive steps to ensure that we can continue to maintain the UK’s integrated and finely balanced supply chains,” said RHA chief executive Richard Burnett.

The letter called on the government for immediate solutions, including introducing temporary worker visas for HGV drivers and putting the occupation on the shortage occupation list.

It also recommended a task force be set up to create a sustainable recruitment and training strategy, as well as re-establishing Defra’s Food Resilience Industry Forum, which the RHA said had helped ensure the country’s supply integrity throughout the pandemic.

Tim O’Malley, managing director at Nationwide Produce, said the driver shortage was leading to fresh produce being “dumped or left rotting in cold stores”.

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